S. Korea, U.S. sit down to hammer out defense cost accord

SEOUL, Jan. 10 (Yonhap) -- Pressed for time after their pact on sharing the cost of keeping U.S. troops here expired recently, Seoul and Washington reopened negotiations on Friday to overcome key differences and hammer out a renewal.

The latest five-year Special Measure Agreement (SMA), which determined South Korea's contributions to the cost of stationing 28,500 U.S. troops here, expired at the end of last year. The two allies have so far failed to bridge their differences for a renewal, including the size of Seoul's contributions and rules to enhance transparency in the use of the defense funds.

These issues continued to dominate their negotiations on Friday, the second day of the 10th round of the Seoul-Washington talks to renew the pact.

The U.S. has reportedly demanded South Korea contribute about 950 billion won (US$892.3 million) under a new agreement, up 9.2 percent from the 869.5 billion won that Seoul paid last year under the previous five-year agreement, citing increased North Korean threats and U.S. budget difficulties.

Seoul, however, has been reluctant to give in to the U.S. demand, saying it can settle for around 900 billion won.

The allies have also been apart over the contentious issue of Seoul's push to lay down rules to better control the U.S.' use of the defense funds.

The length of the renewed pact has also been one of the major points of negotiations.

Sources said the two sides may come up with a package deal over the major issues, but their still differing views may further prolong their talks.

The countries, represented by Amb. Hwang Joon-kook and Amb. Eric John of the U.S. Department of State, are expected to hold another day of negotiations on Saturday should their Friday talks fall through, according to the sources.

Since forging their first SMA in 1991, South Korea has shouldered part of the defense cost, and its share has increased every few years when the military agreement was renewed. The latest agreement expired at the end of last year.

The Seoul-Washington Mutual Defense Treaty had originally put the burden of bankrolling U.S. defense activities here on the U.S. side.

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